Kolbe on printmaking and collage

On the topics of printmaking and collage with young children, Ursula Kolbe notes the following:


When children begin printing, they concentrate on mastering the actions involved and so tend to print randomly. They delight in repeating the actions to investigate cause and effect.
As their skills develop, children begin to organise, arrange and combine their shapes. For example, they might print objects in rows or around the edge of the paper.
Depending on the shapes available, children may combine them – for instance, placing small shapes within bigger ones. ideas for making figures, animals or objects may emerge as they spot unexpected combinations.” (p.92)

Kolbe’s tips on ‘interacting and guiding’ printmaking with young children include:

  • Begin with only a few simple objects and colours
  • Rather than demonstrating to children what they should do, invite them to show you how carefully they can dab, dab, dab the object on a paint pad so that it’s well coated with paint. Then ask them to show you how they can press the object firmly ona piece of paper without moving it around.
  • In my experience, the more I ask children to show me how carefully they can perform an action, the more they become conscious of technique and the care and skills needed. As a result, they gain control over a medium instead of being controlled by it. And in showing you how well they can do certain things, they also learn how to teach skills to each other.
  • Remind children to take time and work slowly. Comment on their arrangements; for example, You’ve put little circles inside your big circle.
  • Take care that working conditions remain inviting: replace objects if they’re smothered in paint, replenish paint pads, and ensure that each child has clean colours and a clean working space.
  • Comment on children’s discoveries when they find different ways of making a print. For example, some may try overprinting (printing one colour on top of another). Or they might use objects in different ways; for example, rolling a cotton reel across paper.” (p.93)
  • There are many different printmaking methods, and almost anything will make some sort of print. But not all methods offer young children the same scope for invention. My advice is to avoid techniques that rely too much on adult involvement or are merely novel for novelty’s sake. If you stick to simple objects that make clear prints and let children add details with pen or crayon, in time they are likely to surprise you with designs, patterns and pictures.” (p.93)
  • “Vary printmaking experiences by printing on black or dark-coloured surfaces with white or pastel colours (make pastels by adding white to colours). Try printing in shades of one colour – for example, a range of greens.” (p.93)
  • “Try to offer printmaking regularly as it takes time to develop printing skills.
    Set up a printmaking area with tables and chairs. Young children concentrate more readily when sitting rather than standing. Arrange materials so that steps in the process flow easily. Make a drying space for wet prints so that the printing table remains uncluttered.” (p.93)


“The word collage comes from the French word coller, meaning to paste. A collage is a pasted arrangement of papers and other materials on a flat surface.” (p.76)

“Paste fascinates young children. If left to their own devices, they may apply copious amounts to a sheet without actually pasting anything on it. When they manage to paste pieces onto a sheet, they often layer them, one on top of the other in a patch.
Sticky tape also intrigues young children, and two- and three-year-olds may tirelessly practise their skills in using it. It can be an eye-opening experience to watch experienced under-threes at work with paper and sticky tape. They delight in using bits of paper to cover and uncover, hide and reveal. What you see in the end often conceals the experiments they have made.” (p.76)

Cutting requires much practice. Children often enjoy simply snipping and cutting for its own sake. Gradually they begin to organise and arrange their cut bits and pieces. As with drawing and painting, pattern-making may become evident….
Experienced children may combine collage pieces with drawing to make recognisable pictures. They may also use paper three-dimensionally so that pieces project or fold out from the surface.” (p.77)

On ‘interacting and guiding’ collage with children, Kolbe writes:

  • Help children to develop pasting skills. For example, show them how to use less paste by wiping the brush on the edge of the container. Remind them to work slowly. In general, I’d be inclined to wait until children are nearly two or older before introducing collage.
  • Look at materials with the children. Encourage them to spend time choosing. ‘It looks like fingers’ was John’s response to a left-over scrap with dangling ends. The ‘fingers’ inspired him to make a paper giant.
  • Comment on features in children’s work: I see you’ve pasted those pieces all in a row.
  • Add items in response to children’s interests and emerging stories. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to offer only one kind of paper or a narrow range of colours for fear of limiting creativity. As long as materials are open-ended and contain a number of possibilities, constraints can often encourage creativity.” (p.77)
  • Choosing, cutting and pasting enticing materials is an absorbing experience. Choosing is in itself a creative act.” (p.77)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Ursula Kolbe (2007) Rapunzel’s Supermarket: All about young children and their art. Second Edn. Pippinot Press: Byron Bay, NSW.


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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2 Responses to Kolbe on printmaking and collage

  1. kartwheels says:

    What a wonderful, informative post! I will have to delve in deeper to your blog and see what is here! If you have the time and interest, I would love if you checked out my blog of kids projects, art, nature etc.
    Take good care!

    • wow I just went over to have a look – great blog! 🙂
      and how cool is that – living where you do and how you do. I shall enjoy reading through some more
      (I also like your daughter’s pseudonym 🙂

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